Kerkhoff CanyonKerkhoff is one of those rocky canyons that can be seen below Ontario Peak during the drive to Baldy Village. From the road, and from Lookout Mountain, the colorful cliffs in upper Kerkhoff beckoned me from afar, and yesterday I decided to check them out up close and personal.
I parked at the Barrett-Stoddard Road turnout and prepared for a long, freezing cold day. It was 36°F at the turnout. How cold would it be up in the canyon? I anticipated little to no sunlight in the upper section of the canyon, due to its NW orientation, and this being wintertime.
By 7:30am I was on the move making my way up San Antonio Canyon.
Kerkhoff hits San Antonio about a quarter-mile above Barrett-Stoddard. But there is a cabin at the mouth of Kerkhoff, which makes getting into the canyon (without blatantly trespassing) a tricky matter. Suffice it to say that there is an obscure bushwhacking route bypassing the cabin, but it took me forty-five minutes of trial and error to find it.
Around 8:30am I was finally in the streambed above the cabin with the owner's two dogs barking at me in the distance.
Small to medium-sized rocks filled the mostly brush-free wash. The canyon first runs due east for half a mile through oak trees, then turns northeast for three-quarters of a mile through conifers.
The wash then sharply turns to the southeast and makes a half-mile bee-line for the colorful cliffs.
Once I reached the rock walls, the canyon narrowed, and the scrambling turned from typical wash to beautiful bouldering and easy climbing.
From the start of the canyon thin patches of snow covered the dry streambed. Now below the cliffs, a little snow and ice blanketed the tops of some rocks, which required me to take extra care with each step.
As I slowly progressed through the frozen scenery, the sound of tumbling scree caught my attention. A hundred feet ahead, a small squad of Bighorn sheep crossed the canyon. They moved from the north cliffs to the south. There appeared to be a male with two mothers, and three or four younglings. Unfortunately I was in no good position for picture-taking at that moment. So instead here is another picture of the cliffs.
Over the last couple hours several of my toes had been slowly freezing, despite being protected by a double layer of socks. I had been stuck in the shadows all morning, but up on the northern scree slopes some sunlight bathed the rocks. I scrambled up there for the purpose of warming my feet. At moments like these I truly appreciate how the ancients learned to worship the Sun as a god.
During the course of my religious toe-warming experience, I once again heard rocks falling. Peering straight across the canyon at the opposite cliffs, I noticed those crazy sheep clinging to the rockface. This time I was in a position to snap a picture.
With warm toes, I proceeded back up the canyon, but decided to stick to the sunlight. So instead of following the main, unsunlit branch straight toward the impending headwall, I discovered a neat class 3 side gully among the northern slopes. This Sunlit couloir offered quite a display of colorful formations.
Not being in the best health right now, I was quickly becoming exhausted after many hours climbing this boulder-filled canyon in sub-freezing weather. And now the steepness of Sunlit gully seemed intent on stopping me in my tracks.
It was already 1:30pm, and I probably had five hundred feet of climbing remaining before Ontario Peak. The way up was clear but super steep, and at my tortoise-like pace who knows when I would have finished. Plus I didn't have spikes, so descending via trails from Ontario could have gone badly if there was much ice. Besides I needed to be back at the car by no later than 6pm. I simply had to turn around.
While grinding to a halt in the gully, I did take notice of the wonders of nature. It's not every day that you stumble upon a rock and a tree engaged in amorous activity.
And whenever you are high up on a mountainside, there usually can be found a nice view.
Rather than descend the same gully, I contoured over to the adjacent one, which had a better view of the headwall.
It took some effort to slowly drop down a network of gullies back to the main branch, but I finally made it back to the car by 5:30pm.